UCL apologises for links to eugenics

The announcement follows a two-year independent Inquiry into the history of the “dangerous ideology” at the London university

UCL has today issued a public apology for its links to the eugenics movement.

The apology acknowledges the university’s “fundamental role in the development, propagation and legitimisation of eugenics” – which it describes as a “dangerous ideology” – and is part of a range of actions addressing the university’s links to eugenics.

These actions follow an independent inquiry into eugenics at UCL, which was commissioned in 2018 after an honorary senior lecturer was found to have been hosting secret, invite-only conferences on eugenics and intelligence with controversial speakers.

UCL’s president and provost Professor Michael Arthur (pictured) said: “UCL considers its history of involvement in eugenics to be in direct contradiction to its founding values of equality, openness and humanity.

“As a community, we reject eugenics entirely and are taking a range of actions to acknowledge and address our historical links with the eugenics movement.

“These actions – including our public apology today – are important steps towards understanding and acknowledging inequality within our institution and acting to ensure that UCL becomes fully inclusive for all our staff and students.”

We apologise for being slow to interrogate properly the history and legacy of eugenics at UCL, and for failing to act with sufficient speed to remedy the ongoing effects on those in our community who are the targets of the eugenic mentality – UCL

The inquiry published its report and recommendations in February 2020. Recommendations also came from a sub-group of the inquiry team. UCL is responding to both sets with initiatives it says will “acknowledge and address its historical links with the eugenics movement”. In June 2020, the provider ‘denamed’ spaces on its campus that had been named after prominent eugenicists Francis Galton, who coined the term ‘eugenics’, and Karl Pearson.

Actions that UCL will now take forward include:

  • Investment in a comprehensive review and action plan to improve access and experience of disabled students and staff, including addressing physical and digital accessibility issues, collecting more robust data on disability at UCL, improving institutional understanding of the spectrum of disability, and tackling discrimination and unconscious bias
  • Improving access for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds through work to expand UCL’s contextual offer scheme
  • Greater prominence for the history and legacy of eugenics in UCL’s teaching and learning activities
  • Expanded opportunities for students to engage with the subject of eugenics, through activities including a specific module in the induction programme for new students, improved access to archives and special collections, and an ongoing programme of exhibitions and engagement, supported by a digital hub
UCL: The university apologised for “for being slow to interrogate properly the history and legacy of eugenics” on its campus

UCL’s eugenics apology in full 

The apology, made by Professor Michael Arthur on behalf of UCL, reads:

“UCL acknowledges with deep regret that it played a fundamental role in the development, propagation and legitimisation of eugenics. This dangerous ideology cemented the spurious idea that varieties of human life could be assigned different value. It provided justification for some of the most appalling crimes in human history: genocide, forced euthanasia, colonialism and other forms of mass murder and oppression based on racial and ableist hierarchy.

“The legacies and consequences of eugenics still cause direct harm through the racism, antisemitism, ableism and other harmful stereotyping that they feed. These continue to impact on people’s lives directly, driving discrimination and denying opportunity, access and representation.

“UCL considers its history of involvement in eugenics to be in direct contradiction to its founding values of equality, openness and humanity. As a community, we reject eugenics entirely.

“We apologise fully, and with humility, to all those who have suffered and to those who are still suffering because of our role in creating the conditions that enabled eugenics to become established and acted upon.

“We apologise for being slow to interrogate properly the history and legacy of eugenics at UCL, and for failing to act with sufficient speed to remedy the ongoing effects on those in our community who are the targets of the eugenic mentality.

“We apologise for honouring individuals who were leading eugenicists through the naming of spaces on campus.

“We recognise that the legacy of eugenics is ongoing and we commit to closing down any opportunity for this legacy to continue unacknowledged and unchallenged. We operate in a climate of academic freedom, but we recognise that the right to freedom of expression is not unfettered.

“UCL pledges to continue to confront its history of eugenics and ongoing legacies openly and critically, and to ensure that UCL staff and students are enabled to do the same.”


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